Bobbing Around: Building a Bespoke Harley Custom. Part 2

Tom Shaw is cracking on with his Harley Bobber Build. Let’s see how things are progressing:

Who Needs Suspension Anyway? Time for a Hardtail!

The first job was stripping the bike down to its bare bones. I always feel bad doing this to a running bike, but I’d also much rather start any project with a fully functioning motorcycle before the work begins. So then at least you know – it ran before, so if you don’t change too much it SHOULD run again.

Getting Down to it

There is not a lot to talk about when it comes to taking a bike to bits, it’s by far the easiest part of any work you do on a bike, but there is a few simple thing that I do now to save me headaches in the future. I take lots of reference photos as I go and label things up. This can be as simple as putting all of the bolts off the front mudguard in a bag and writing “front mudguard” on it, or putting “L” and “R” on parts, depending on which side of the bike they come off. Another useful tip is to use bits of masking tape round wire connectors, and writing some reference on them and the corresponding fixture. I’m left with two piles of parts: stuff to keep and stuff to sell.

Now I Can Really Get Going

Now the frame is stripped bare, I can finally get into some actual customising! After reviewing the different weld on hardtail kits available for 2003 Sportsters, I settled on the TC Bro’s kit from Ohio USA. The main reason I went for this one was that the backbone is a single piece which curves down behind the engine, which I think gives a much more pleasing overall finish than others on the market. It comes with detailed instructions, but I also get on the good ol’ YouTube to watch some installation videos. This helps highlight anything that I may need to watch out for, and helps to familiarise myself with the process as hardtailing is not something I do every week.

When two become one…Have I just quoted The Spice Girls??! 

But, you can only do so much looking and measuring, eventually the time comes to put your money where your mouth is and make a cut. Cross all your fingers and all your toes, check all your measurements three times and fire up the trusty grinder! To help me make the cuts square, I wrapped tape around the frame tubes to give me something to line my eye up against. Once cut, I get the file out and tidy them up a little before checking for squareness with an engineer’s square.

Now for the Tricky Bit!

That was the easy part, the tricky bit is lining the new hard tail up with the cut front frame and getting it all lined up straight and true before putting some welds on it. I spent easily two hours doing this, and I think that it’s time well spent. The engine on the Sportster actually helps quite a lot in this process, as it acts as a sort of jig for mating the two parts of the frame together. It also has a very exact and solid rear engine mount with four bolts in it, so that gives you a really good place to start.

I really hope I’ve got this right!!

I won’t bore you with a detailed description of everything I did in those two hours, but essentially, as with any frame, you are trying to line a few things up. The drive train all needs to be straight, so that you don’t have any twist from your engine, to gearbox, to rear axle. The Sportster is a unit engine making this a lot easier than it was for the Shovelhead. You also want the headstock to be at a 90 degree angle from the line of the drive train. Again, there are some good videos online that go into some detail about this, so have a look if you’re really bored!

This being a British Bobber, there’s only one way you possibly end the day!

One of the joins on this hardtail kit was halfway up the backbone, so another thing I did was hold a straight edge along this to ensure that my frame would be going together at least somewhat straight. Eventually you get to a point where you have measured and checked everything 16 times, re-read the instructions another dozen times, and have to commit. So I got the welder out and started making some tentative tacks. When I had welded up as much as I could with the engine in the frame, I removed the engine one last time to finish off.

Getting There

And there you have it, a hard tailed frame. Still plenty of work left to do on it, but I’ll leave it there for now. Time for a cup of tea.

The vital element of ANY Build


Words and Pictures: Tom Shaw

Read the other parts in this excellent series: